New series of essays demonstrate that health will not be improved by health care alone

Politicians and health experts today come together to call on the government to tackle the causes of poor health and make health improvement an objective across all policy areas – including education, leisure, housing and employment. The essays conclude that addressing the wider determinants of health is critical to ensuring the prosperity and wellbeing of British society as well as easing pressure on the NHS.

The call comes from the Health Foundation and the All-Party Parliamentary Health Group as they publish a series of hard-hitting essays from distinguished experts in health - A healthier life for all: the case for cross-government action.

The essays support the view that a more proactive approach to tackling poor health across all policy areas is urgently needed, to help ensure individuals, families and communities can thrive. In particular, the essays identify that:

  • Most of the factors that contribute to a person’s health sit outside the health care system. For example, the association between having a difficult childhood (for example, as a result of deprivation or abuse) and psychosis in later life is about as strong as the link between smoking and some types of lung cancer.1 The authors call on government to recognise that health is linked to our social environment, not an output of the NHS.
  • Poor health has serious economic consequences for the UK. Sir Michael Marmot (2010) estimated that preventable ill health cost the country £50-65bn a year in lost productivity and tax revenues.2 The authors call on the government to recognise that health contributes to the core infrastructure of a prosperous and sustainable society, and is not something we can only ‘afford’ when the economy is thriving.
  • Improving public health will reduce pressure on public services. Preventable ill health is responsible for around 40% of the burden on health services, but only around 4% of the health budget is spent on prevention.3 Also, almost a quarter (23%) of Jobseekers Allowance claimants and more than 40% of Incapacity benefits claimants have mental health problems.4 The authors call on the government to recognise that there is an economic case for investing in prevention.

Sir Kevin Barron, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group, said: 'Preventable health problems are not issues that can be tackled by the Department of Health alone. The continued impact on society posed by smoking and alcohol consumption, obesity and sedentary life styles, poor life experiences and issues linked to the physical environment, housing, poverty and employment, all present policymakers with enormous challenges. These challenges cannot be ignored, but by tackling them politicians and policymakers could bring about game-changing, health, social and economic benefits.'

Dr Jo Bibby, Director of Strategy for the Health Foundation, said:  'In these times of economic and political uncertainty, the health of the British population are more important than ever to our economic success and wellbeing as a country. With short-sighted cuts to public health funding, and health impact assessments sadly often little more than a tick box exercise, the process of government decision-making needs to be radically re-engineered to make health and the emotional, social and financial wellbeing of the population a core objective.'

Notes to editors

  • For further information please contact Creina Lilburne on 020 7257 8027. 
  • A healthier life for all: the case for cross-government action is a comprehensive, accessible series of essays setting out the key health and wellbeing challenges facing the UK and possible solutions. It is available free to download.
  • The Health Foundation is extending its work to look more broadly at the determinants of health, building on our historical focus on improving health service delivery. We want to make a real and lasting contribution to the health and wellbeing of people in the UK. In February, the Health Foundation, The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust published a joint briefing on the Impact of the 2015 spending Review on health and social care. The briefing highlighted that public health spending will fall by at least £600 million in real terms by 2020/21. This will affect a wide range of services.
  • The Health Foundation is an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and health care for people in the UK. www.health.org.uk

References

  1. Varese, Smeets et al, 2012.  As cited by Prof Peter Kinderman in A healthier life for all: the case for cross-government action.
  2. Marmot, M, 2010. As cited by Alex Bax in A healthier life for all: the case for cross-government action.
  3. Newton et al, 2013. As cited by Marshall and Charlesworth in A healthier life for all: the case for cross-government action.
  4. Carol Black, 2016. As cited in A healthier life for all: the case for cross-government action.

Further reading